Congress has approved the 90-day House extension of the highway bill, just days before current funding will expire. The measure passed by a Unanimous Consent voice vote on the Senate floor at 2:37 pm. Shortly before, the House of Representatives voted 266-158 to pass the extension.
Thirty-seven Democrats in the House joined the Republican majority in approving the bill, while only 10 Republicans opposed the extension.
The issue is a bit of a political hot potato. Without an extension, the existing highway legislation would run out of money on Saturday. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi blasted House Republicans for "kicking the can down the road" by passing a short-time fix instead of a two-year bill approved by a bipartisan majority in the Senate.
"The American people have a right to know why - why the Republicans in the Senate, the Democrats in the Senate, the President of the United States, the House Democrats, all support this bipartisan bill, why the Republicans in the House are odd-man-out," Pelosi, D-Calif., said on the House floor just before the vote. "This initiative, this 'kick the can down the road,' this 'my or no highway bill' attitude is costing jobs."
But Speaker John Boehner maintained that a temporary extension is the "most responsible way forward" in order to buy Republicans more time to work out a long-term solution to mesh with the Senate's two-year bill. Without a short-term bill, he warned, there could be a stoppage of construction.
After legislative business today, the House and Senate will go on Easter recess for two weeks, returning to session April 16.
"After this 90-day extension today, when we get back, we will move quickly to move a highway bill with our energy initiatives and ship it over to the United States Senate," Boehner, R-Ohio, pledged. "We are working on putting together the final touches on that bill and it'll be ready when we get back."
Boehner said that among the GOP's final touches on a long-term proposal, Republicans hope to "responsibly increase energy production on federal lands and freeze new regulations on refineries that will have a harmful impact on our economy." Republicans could also win votes by tying a long-term highway bill to the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
As the GOP searches for a path forward, Pelosi chastised House Republicans for struggling to find the votes to pass their own long-term bill.
"The Republicans cannot even bring their own transportation bill to the floor and pass it," Pelosi said. "Their own transportation bill is not a good bill, but at least it would take us to conference. They can't vote for their own bill. I don't know how that happens, but they have a bill that they can't support."
The Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill on March 14, with 74 votes in favor of the legislation, including 22 Republicans. But Boehner says he opposes some of the Senate's payfors because they don't meet the straight face test.
"You see some, what I'll call 'gimmicks,' in terms of how it's paid for," the speaker said. "Secondly, they just run down the highway trust fund to virtually zero, which is going to - may get them through the next year and a half, but it's going to cause a very big problem when this has to be addressed again."
The temporary measure was a tough bill to swallow for Senate Democrats, who had been pushing for weeks for the House of Representatives to pass their $109 billion two- year measure. But time was working against the Senate. With the looming threat of construction on roads across the nation grinding to a halt this weekend without a bill passed by both houses and with a two-week recess starting next week, members of Congress were eager to get something passed.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA., one of the chief negotiators of the bill called this a "sad day" because members of Congress will leave town without a long-term solution. She promised to keep fighting for a longer-term extension.
"We want this bill done, and I'm going to use every tool at my disposal as one United States senator to keep the pressure on the Republican House," Boxer said after the vote. "Now we have 90 days. Tomorrow it will be 89, 88. We're going to count down and we're going to keep the pressure on and we're not going to let this transportation program go up in smoke."
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA., said she does not support the short-term bill but would not hold up the spring recess over it. She promised not to vote for another short-term extension again.
"I'm not going to hold up everybody here over the holidays, but I want to say, I want my vote recorded as 'no.' I am not going to continue to support 30-day, 60-day, 90-day extensions to a transportation bill which really in the scheme of things should not be that complicated to pass," Landrieu said.
The bill will be sent now to President Obama for his signature.
Some members of Congress are already leaving Capitol Hill now to start their two week recess, with votes not scheduled in the Senate again until April 16.